Morning Dew – Tom Gaffney
I can still see it, conjure it in a moment of need. There was a mole near her right shoulder blade. It wasn’t big, but it stood out in that smooth field. It still makes me think of chocolate chip ice cream. And sex and quiet mornings and abundant sheets and large beds. When sex was newer and miraculous. Still remarkable and miraculous and luxurious and always eye opening. The light coming in and crossing her shoulder. Her hair falling down to the side, framing that smooth field and her dainty big little mole.
What’s the story on moles? Why? Why moles? Why do they happen? Are they like scars? Eddies in an otherwise nearly perfect flow of skin?
I don’t think her name. Don’t mutter it or whisper it. Strange. For many years the memory of her pained me. For a time I had hated her, or wanted to, or hated what she reminded me of, of what a dumb young I fool was. How perfect she was, if only she had listened to me. Of course, in a way, I admire her now for not being silly enough to do that.
Now though, no regrets. Not about that, at least. Things have turned out alright, generally. It is the image that intoxicates me now and recalling the ease and beauty of a morning like that. It would be neat to leave messages for old lovers – no context, not asking anything. Just, I remember you and how beautiful you and your shoulder were that morning.
One of the machines was beeping. The nurse told me a tech would be in to change it out in the morning. It will beep for a couple of minutes she had said. Then it will stop. Fine for you, I think. You’re used to it. Don’t even notice it. But for me, it is just one other thing I cannot fix or arrange.
Each step is necessary, a part of the journey, a trip we all take. The concept is simple enough, a passage, a common one. Everyone goes through it. But as you watch it unfold you can’t separate yourself from your own fear. Don’t want to use fear, but what else is it? This is elemental. Insecurity just sounds like a stall.
If I was with her I’d be wrapped up in life, our shared situation. Likely, back then, I was probably thinking about something like getting out of the apartment before she woke up so I could go get high without facing her. So I wouldn’t have to talk to anyone. I know I had to be worried about paying the rent and finding a better job or the debate the two of us had left incomplete before we fucked and slept.
The window in the hospital room looks out across a parking lot. But from here, in the recliner made for someone much smaller than me, when I look out the window I can see the trees in the gray twilight. Leaves combined to a mass. You know there are uncountable individuals there and none of them are distinct. I’ve spent much of my time in this room trying to imagine it is a wilderness out there with a long trail waiting to be hiked.
“Joseph, is that you?”
Dad stirs, his voice hoarse.
“No, Dad, it’s Pat.”
“Oh. I must have been dreaming. Dreamt I was with Joseph. We were in the old high field at home. Going to work on the pump. You remember that old pump house – don’t you?”
“I do. Sitting in the corner of the high field.”
“By the old kiln.”
“Do you think Joe will be by later?’
“Maybe Dad, maybe.”
That would be great, but unfortunately Dad had better chances with the lottery ticket I bought him yesterday than having Joe show up. I don’t remind him of that. I wish it wasn’t so.
“Such a beautiful morning it was. It was raining and I was wearing Da’s old National Guard rain coat. It was huge. Came down below my knees.”
“I bet it was comfy.”
My turn to stir. The image of the mole was now one of those leaves on the tree – there, but indistinct. Sleep is gone too. I stand and stretch and try to erase the kinks and knots in my back.
“We were heading to the pump house to work on something. Joseph will know what it was. I was just along for the walk, keeping him company. Now the shed with the pump was up there in the corner – “
“Yup. The southeast corner of the field.”
“On a clear day you could almost see the sea from there. Miles away. But it was a wet morning. The clouds were boiling and you could watch the rain climbing the hill in sheets. One after the other.”
“I can see it now Pops. I remember standing there with you and Joseph when I was little.”
“Nothing about it seems too special now, but I remember it like it was yesterday. Maybe we’ll go back after I get out of here. What do you think – um – what do you . . .ah dammit”
“It’s Pat Dad. It’s ok. You’re ok.”
“Nothing’s ok,” he pauses, sighs. “Why doesn’t someone bring me breakfast? Eggs and bacon. None of the shit they’re feeding me here. And this pain in my neck.”
“I’m sorry Dad.”
Standing, I adjust his pillows. We are enjoying a respite from the beeping, mercifully. I look out the window and see the parking lot and the Denny’s across the way. I look down at the sheets, and think of her and her mole, amazed at the oscillations in an image. Large and encompassing, comfortable, then suddenly small and out of place. Laughable. Like a million years ago.
“Ah. Whatever. Things will improve when Joey gets here. I told him to bring some whiskey over after he gets out of church.”
“We’ll see Pop.”
“Anyway, where was I – the old high field. Joseph. Different day now. We were cutting hay. Da was on the tractor and we were following on foot. Turning hay with forks. He turned out a family of mice. There was a bunch of them.”
“They were running this way and that, scattering. We saw one left behind, on its back. It had been cut by the mower.”
Not what I was expecting. The memories come forth, so many repeated and rose colored. This is new and different.
“It was on its back and it had been cut almost in two. We could see it breathing at a furious pace. Its chest sliced open. Trying to catch a breath.”
Suddenly his eyes were filling with tears.
“Ah, Joey. How could we?”
“What happened Dad?”
“Joey stepped and crushed him with his foot. There was nothing else for it. Put him out of his misery.”
His face curled in an agony of tears. I thought he was remembering where Joey was.
“How could we Joey?” He looked up at me, recognizing me and seeing someone else.
“Pat, we just started laughing. We giggled, couldn’t stop. Laughed and laughed. I don’t know if I’ve ever laughed harder. And the poor thing cut up and dead and crushed under his foot. Damned mouse.”
“I’m sorry Dad.”
I grab a tissue, wipe his nose. Don’t know what to say.
“Beautiful mornings and dead mice. Joey making me laugh. Shameful. I’m going to give him an earful when he gets here. Forgive me, laughing like that.”
I look out the window at the still parking lot and the rising traffic on the road. Dad’s food came and he ate. He dozed back off.
I settle into the chair and close my eyes. In silence if I drift just right I can that mole, and Amanda’s shoulder, and the trace of her hip under the sheet. Then I start, turn, and look at the window and all I can see is a poor little mouse trying to breathe. And the leaves on the tree: in the light I can make out individual leaves.